What is Lyme Disease?
Lyme disease is an inflammatory disease caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. It is called “The Great Imitator” because it causes symptoms that mimic other diseases, making it very difficult to diagnose.
Infection occurs if you are bitten by an infected tick. As the infection spreads it can infiltrate multiple tissues and systems throughout the body, creating debilitating and often mysterious symptoms.
Lyme disease can either be acute, which can be treated with antibiotics, or chronic. Chronic Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed for other long-term illnesses because it has a large array of symptoms.
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
It is well known that a sign of infection is a bullseye rash following a tick bite. However, most people are not aware that only about one in four infected bites produce a bullseye rash.
Early symptoms of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, night sweats and chills, chronic fatigue, migratory numbness and tingling, tinnitus, muscle and joint pain and sleep issues.
If the infection is left untreated it can progress to chronic Lyme disease and can become systemic throughout the body, affecting joints, digestion, the nervous system and heart. Advanced symptoms include memory loss, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, shortness of breath and tingling in your hands and feet.
Autophagy in Lyme disease
Autophagy is the body’s way of cleaning out damaged cells in order to regenerate newer healthier cells. Cells in the body also use this process to destroy bacteria and produce an immune response. However, if cells are chronically stressed, they may exceed their capacity for autophagy, and become unable to destroy bacteria. This is what happens when Lyme disease becomes chronic.
Most people with chronic Lyme disease do not become ill around the time of the tick bite because they are healthy so their cells can carry out autophagy. The onset of chronic symptoms is typically associated with other predisposing stress factors, for example unrelenting mental stress, years of poor dietary habits or a new infection, such as COVID-19.
Why is Lyme Disease Routinely Missed?
Chronic Lyme disease is often either undiagnosed for many years or misdiagnosed as a different chronic illness. For example, Lyme disease is often misdiagnosed as MS because the lesions on an MRI scan appear the same for both diseases.
One reason Lyme disease is not diagnosed is due to the assumption that you need to have the bullseye rash when bitten by a tick to be infected. However, only twenty five percent of infected bites produce a rash. This means that in most cases of Lyme disease, a test for Lyme is not even considered.
Once inside your body, the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria that causes Lyme disease can form a protective barrier called a biofilm. These biofilms allow the bacteria to evade the immune system and hide from antibiotics. This can cause treatment resistance, antibiotic resistance and relapse once the antibiotics are stopped. These biofilms are what turn Lyme disease from a temporary illness to a chronic disorder, and what make the disease so hard to detect and treat.
The standard ELISA test often gives false negative results. This is because the test only measures antibodies to the infection, however these antibodies may not be present in a positive case for many reasons, for example, there not being enough time for symptoms to develop. ELISA is only 55% to 90% sensitive to locating these antibodies, so it is possible for these tests to be negative despite active infection.
Please note that testing is not always required to make a diagnosis, for example in cases with a classic bullseye rash.
Tickplex tests for the presence of Borrelia antibodies just like a standard ELISA test. However, it also tests for persister forms of Borrelia, unlike ELISA tests.
SeraSpot tests for the presence of Borrelia antibodies, it is similar to the ELISA test, but it is more specific and sensitive in detecting the antibodies.
EliSpot detects the presence of the Borrelia bacteria, rather than detecting the immune response to it by measuring antibodies. This is more effective than standard ELISA tests because there is less chance of false negative test results associated with ELISA tests. This test is between 20 and 200 times more sensitive than a conventional ELISA test.
PCR tests also detect the presence of the bacteria in the body, either from a blood, spinal fluid or tissue biopsy sample.
Natural killer cells are part of your body’s immune response to infections. This test measures the number of these cells present to give an indication of whether Lyme is present. The cell count can also document the extent of the immune suppression caused by chronic Lyme disease before, during and after treatment.
We offer a wide range of testing here at the clinic.